Why Lichess will always be free.
Most “free” websites subsist by selling ads or selling user data. Others do it by putting all the good stuff behind paywalls. Lichess doesn’t do any of that and never will. Almost 6 years ago, Lichess founder Thibault explained why Lichess is free - and what that means. A lot can change in 6 years but this is one thing that hasn't and never will.
This is our unbreakable promise to you, our users:
- Lichess will never have ads.
- Lichess will never sell our user’s data.
- Lichess will always be 100% free of charge.
Why No Ads?
There is absolutely nothing positive about advertisements on websites from the perspective of their users. They eat up valuable screen space and bandwidth for something that nobody wants to see. They often manipulate and misinform. They have even been the source of security vulnerabilities many times in the past.
So why are there ads on websites? There is only one purpose they serve: to make money. We certainly need some money like anyone else, running a site the size of Lichess is quite expensive. However, we’ve gone more than a decade safely paying our bills with money from donations and there's no reason to think that won’t continue. Some may think that maximizing profits should be the end goal of every website and they are free to run their website that way if they wish, we prefer to do things differently.
Lichess is a non-profit association in France with the registered objective "promouvoir et favoriser l'enseignement et la pratique du jeu d'échecs et de ses variantes" or "to promote and encourage the teaching and practice of the game of chess and its variants". This is because we are not driven by profit, it is not a goal of Lichess to make money.
What does this mean? Well, as well as the obvious aspect of not having to pay to use Lichess (e.g. paywalls, or freemium) it means we're free to do what we think is right, rather than always pressured to increase revenues. Just like not having adverts, we also have no incentive to hide features, or to sell user data - Lichess exists to be used by you, not to use you.
Would you buy a meal if the restaurant refused to tell you the ingredients? Would you buy a car if you weren’t allowed to look under the hood? It’s natural for people to want to know what a website they use does. If you can read the code you can know to the tiniest detail how Lichess software works. You don’t have to take our word for it that Lichess works in a certain way, you can go see for yourself.
Another aspect of open source is that it lets developers work together. Anyone is free to use Lichess code for their own project with no cost. The only requirement is to continue in the sharing spirit that the code was given and make whatever you create open-source in the same way that Lichess is. This is incredibly useful to chess website developers who don’t have to start from scratch, they can instead build on the work of others.
Imagine if scientists kept the result of every scientific study to themselves. The same work would have to be done over and over again as everyone was forced to reinvent the wheel countless times to do anything at all. Instead, scientists share their work and collaborate which benefits all of us. There is no reason that software can’t work the same way.
In conclusion, the answer to the question "why is Lichess free?" is very simple. Why wouldn’t it be? Our only goal is to have the best website possible. To that end, adding ads, paywalls, or trackers would make no sense.